Requiem, Op. 48 (1900 version)*
[38:12] Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
pezzi sacri (1889-1897) [39:07]
Baker (soprano)/*Gérard Souzay (baritone)
Philharmonia Chorus/Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo-Maria Giulini
rec. Royal Festival Hall, London, 30 April 1962. ADD BBC LEGENDS
I’m sure that one of the
reasons why the BBC Legends series has been so successful
is that it has been artist-focused. In line with that policy
this release is badged, very understandably, with the name
of Carlo-Maria Giulini. However, the booklet note by Mike
Ashman discusses not just the great Italian maestro but also
Wilhelm Pitz, doyen of post-war chorus-masters and the man
who was the inspiration behind the Philharmonia Chorus in
its early days. I think that’s entirely proper since the
stamp of both men is clearly on these performances.
recorded both of these work commercially. His recording of
the Verdi, made with these self-same forces, was set down
only a few months after this concert, in December 1962. Now
available in EMI’s ‘Great Recordings of the Century’ series,
coupled with the conductor’s famous account of the Verdi Requiem,
it’s the version through which I came to know these pieces
many years ago. That said, I see that my colleague, Christopher
Howell, greeted the reissue with some reservations (see review).
There’s a 1986 recording by Giulini, with the Philharmonia,
of the Fauré (DG 4745622) but I haven’t heard that. In
any event, these two live performances, from the prime of
Giulini’s relationship with the Philharmonia, present an
Fauré is given in the version for full orchestra, as was
the norm in the early 1960s. Since then we have become much
more accustomed to hearing the work in its more intimate
orchestral guise and I prefer that approach. However, there’s
most certainly a place for the more fully-scored version.
wasn’t surprised to find that Giulini’s is a pretty traditional
view of the work, in which slow or slowish tempi predominate.
It’s also a deeply-felt, intense vision of the score. So,
right at the start, the choir is very hushed although Giulini
brings out the differences in dynamics between the orchestra
- often louder, by design - and the singers. The choir’s
quiet singing is impressive throughout the whole disc; in
fact their tone is often veiled at quiet moments - quite
deliberately, I’m sure. That said, perhaps in part this is
due to the recording, which does rather show its age and
which has a tendency to overload in climaxes, especially
in the Verdi. I liked Giulini’s handling of the Offertoire
movement. Souzay is in good voice and the choir sings well.
When, after the baritone solo, the choir returns with “O
Domine, Jesu Christe”, the bass line catches the ear nicely,
though without any unnatural exaggeration. The concluding “Amen” is
is no mistake in the header to this review. Dame Janet is
indeed listed as a soprano. Whether the billing is wholly
accurate matters not. The solo in this work lies comfortably
within her range – it goes up to F natural – and I suspect
that if it were not for the focus these days on chamber-style
performances of the work, which often implies the use of
pure, light sopranos, we might hear more mezzos essay the
part. Dame Janet sings with all the intelligence, lovely
tone and discernment that one would expect from her and she
proves to be an excellent protagonist of this beautiful solo.
I don’t know how often she sang the role in concert but I’m
not aware of any other recorded performances by her so this
is a not insignificant addition to her discography, and a
Dei is well shaped with a good tenor line at the start.
Later, from “Lux aeterna” onwards, Giulini builds the climax
carefully and with good control. In the Libera me Souzay
once again produces a pleasing and French tone but I do
wonder if he does a bit too much with the words. On another
BBC Legends disc, in a fine performance, conducted by Nadia
Boulanger (BBCL 4026 2), John Carol Case is the soloist
and he employs a simpler style of delivery, which I rather
prefer though others may find it a bit plain and understated. The
serene In Paradisum is given a gentle, radiant performance
by Giulini and his choir.
interesting to compare this Giulini reading with that Boulanger
account, which similarly uses the full orchestral score.
The total timings aren’t vastly different – Boulanger takes
38:39 – nor do the timings for the individual movements differ
radically. However, I have a greater sense of forward movement
from Boulanger at several times in the work. Also, her reading,
which dates from 1968, is captured in very much better sound.
This Giulini traversal isn’t a reading that will appeal to
anyone who insists on having their Fauré Requiem lean
and intimate. However, it’s typical of Giulini in its musical
sensitivity, sincerity and good taste and I’m very glad to
I’ve already noted, Giulini’s interpretation of the Verdi
already exists in a roughly contemporaneous recording that’s
been a staple of the catalogue for over four decades now.
Nonetheless, it’s good to have a live version also. It’s
interesting to compare Giulini’s timings as between the live
and the studio versions.
Laudi alla Vergine Maria
BBC Legends tracks include a few seconds of pauses between
movements and in the case of the Te Deum the timing
shown above excludes nearly one minute of applause at the
end. It’s notable that in the larger pieces Giulini was a
bit more expansive in the studio.
have one little grumble about this BBC Legends production,
namely that at the very start of the Ave Maria and
again before the Te Deum a note is discreetly given
to the choir on the organ. I appreciate that this is a record
of what happened at the concert but surely this could have
been edited out as it is bound to be distracting in repeated
moulds the Ave Maria lovingly and with devotion. This
unaccompanied piece bristles with difficulties for the choir,
stemming from Verdi’s extremely demanding and chromatic harmonic
language. I don’t have perfect pitch but it sounds to me
as if Pitz had trained his singers to such a degree that
they cope well with Verdi’s demands. The opening pages of
the Stabat Mater aren’t easy to bring off either,
requiring great concentration from the choir, but this performance
is successful. Having said that, the choral singing heard
on this disc isn’t absolutely flawless but that, I think
reflects the huge advances in the standards of choral singing
over the last forty years or so. In 1962 this choral singing
would have been considered first rate, and rightly so, but
today’s choirs have set the bar even higher. But the 1962
Philharmonia Chorus puts up a pretty decent show. They are
very incisive at “Fac, ut portem Christi mortem” and they
exhibit a tremendous dynamic range at “Fac ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria” though their climax at the end of this passage
is somewhat compromised by the recording itself.
ladies sing the third piece, the only one that’s in Italian
rather than Latin, and they do it well. The best music – the Te
Deum – brings out the best performance. At the start
the men are quite distant, which makes the brilliant outburst
on “Sanctus” all the more thrilling, though once again the
recording can’t quite cope. “Patrem immensae majestatis” is
very exciting, as it should be, and the singing – and playing – is
incisive at “Tu, rex gloriae.” What I’ve always thought of
as Verdi’s ‘Wall of Sound’ (long before Phil Spector!) at “Salvum
fac populum tuum” is an impressive moment, while at the other
end of the dynamic spectrum Giulini sustains the intensity
during the quiet march at “Dignare Domine”. Dame Janet’s
short solo appearance, a cameo she repeated on the commercial
recording, is part of a well-managed conclusion.
Giulini’s vision of these pieces is best revealed in his
EMI commercial recording, not least because the EMI sound
is much better. However, this live version is a valuable
supplement to that issue.
I’ve indicated, the quality of sound is limited. There’s
an overall degree of opacity and the climaxes certainly overload.
However, one must remember that these recordings are forty-five
years old and all things considered the performances are
reported pretty well. The interpretations of both works are
typical of Giulini; in other words, committed, not at all
showy, devoted yet suitably dynamic at the more dramatic
moments. Admirers of this great conductor, of whom I’m certainly
one, will know what to expect. Unfortunately documentation
continues to be an Achilles heel of this series. Mike Ashman’s
note, which is reproduced in English, French and German,
is a good one. However, as usual, no texts or translations
are provided. This is an especially grave omission in the
case of the Verdi since those texts will be unfamiliar to
many. Previously the booklets for BBC Legends issues have
included a couple of photos of the featured artist but even
these are absent here. No doubt this is for reasons of economy
but this is one of the most important historical series on
the market and I think Medici Arts can and should provide
better documentation than this.
that caveat, this is another valuable BBC Legends release
and a welcome addition to the Giulini discography.
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